Stress is not our enemy. Stress is good, healthy and necessary. The culprit is cortisol and our inability to recognize when there’s too much. It is the masked bandit that robs us of more than we can imagine.

Here are some surprisingly easy, stress-free, healthy strategies for dealing with too much cortisol.


Americans are famous for shallow, anemic breathing. Just a few, slow, deep breaths trigger the vagus nerve – every time. This signals the nervous system to lower the heart rate, which in turn helps the body recover from an overdose of cortisol. Tape up sticky notes that say “Breathe!” or set a timer on your cell phone. Bedtime and red lights are great places to practice. Experts tell us there’s an art to breathing well. Begin by exhaling out through your mouth. Then take a slow breath in through your nose. Don’t go too slow or too fast. Breathe at a normal rate, just make it sure it’s deep. At the height of your deep breath, pause for a second or two. Try to use your abdominal muscles and if you’re sitting upright, don’t allow your shoulders to rise. Make sure they are relaxed. Five to ten deep breaths will serve you well.


Mild dehydration adds to our fatigue and crankiness. Drink some water. Then a little bit more. Most Americans suffer from mild levels of dehydration every day. Don’t like to drink? Use a straw. A quick sip from a straw gets more in you then a sip from a cup.

Hold and hug

Wrap your arms around some people you love. Every day. Human touch reduces cortisol levels. It’s life-giving to premature babies and just about everyone else. Kissing works, too!

Linger outside

Meander to your car. Most Americans spend only 14 minutes outside every day – an accumulation of the short bursts we spend walking from a building to our car and back again. This cortisol reducer simply encourages us to pause and pay attention. Feel the breeze, the rain, the sunshine. Listen for birds. Notice the clouds, a splash of color, the dance of leaves or branches in the wind. Attend. Then take a moment to marvel. If you see a rose, you know what to do.


Simply smile. (Laugh, too, every chance you get.) A genuine smile reduces your heart rate even in stressful, multi-tasking situations. Go figure. So, shine those pearly whites at every person you meet. If they’re under five, add a wink free of charge.

Thank the Lord

Every night. Three things. Be specific. Ann Voskamp encourages us to make a list of a thousand things we’re thankful for. A year of gratitude goes a long way. Begin tonight. Better yet, begin right now.

Have you ever tried changing your default setting? Make a game plan. Give it a try. Don’t give up.

Breathe. Drink. Hug. Attend. Smile. Say thank you.

  • Which simple cortisol-busters are most attractive to you?